The Competition Doesn’t Matter – Part 1

Over the weeks of blog writing, you’ve asked a provocative question: “Please be more personal: how are you handling specific challenges in your business?”

So, inspired by difficulty, I thought to write a provocative answer. This Tuesday, a prospect asked me a deadly question.

“How do your rates compare with the competition?”

What a loaded question! I knew it had serious implications for the relationship with the prospect.

So I responded to the prospect with my own question, “I’m not sure. Who’s my competition?”

Maybe that sounds snarky — but how could I answer the question? Who was my competition in the eyes of my prospect?

After all, thousands of people call themselves “freelance copywriters.” Taking a glance at a leading freelance job site, I see over 1,000 copywriters, starting with a minimum rate of $8.

That’s right, $8. Those people make around $20,000 a year.

Do I compete with the $8/hour crowd? Heck, no. Did my prospect see me as competing with that group? I hoped not — but didn’t know.

I’m troubled by the idea that any copywriter sets a minimum rate of $8. But there are dozens of them on this freelance job site, and I hope no one here is one of them. That’s a guaranteed path to never being a professional — because $16,000 a year isn’t a professional income in the United States.

Would you visit a dentist who only made $16,000? Or a doctor? Or a lawyer? Of course not — because not only does that rate imply low professionalism, it also implies low value.

I once lived on $16,000 a year, and I can guarantee that I had no value to anyone. Sounds harsh, but it was true. I wasn’t being taken advantage of — I was on straight 100% commission — and I was paid for the value I brought.

If you believe that you’re a professional, have professional skills, and position yourself as a professional, you aren’t competing with those people. You’re a professional, and they’re not. You’re there to deliver a high level of value — and they’re not.

So, back to my meeting … after this prospect hemmed and hawed for 30 seconds, I let him off the hook by saying, “Sorry to ask you a tough question. Honestly, I priced to value because I couldn’t find benchmark pricing for what I do.”

Now, it’s true that I talked to copywriters and got their price lists. But it’s also true that I didn’t price myself identically to anyone – I picked my own path on pricing.

I priced myself according to a basic fact of life: the market pays according to value. If you have distinctive value that your clients can’t buy elsewhere, they will pay what it takes to buy it from you.

As far as I can tell, I am one of three marketing consultants in the country who have data storage expertise, and none of them has my set of skills.

That’s true of you too. How many of your competitors have AWAI training? Your work history? Or your distinct set of experiences? Does anyone have your set of clients?

I took myself out of the competitive pack. You should too.

Broadly speaking in business, there are two strategies: stand out, or fit in. I picked stand out because it let me leverage my experience, skills, and acumen in distinctive, interesting, valuable ways.

It let me be real.

Fitting in is all about saying, in effect, “I’m just like so-and-so, but better/cheaper/faster.” This says nothing about you. In other words, you’re marketing yourself in the context of the guy that came before you.

Being real is scaring me, because I have to be honest about my skills and limits. But the market tends to prefer someone who’s real.

Look at all the best copywriters. They created their own category by being real. Who else is in Bob Bly’s category? Or Steve Slaunwhite’s? No one.

And by being real, I put myself in a different category. I picked my own path because I realize comparing yourself against a hypothetical competitor is the shortest path to mediocrity.

Don’t be everyone else.

Here’s something to think about. What would happen if, during your next client call, you said, “I don’t have competition because I have distinct skills?” And then validated the worth of what you do because you’re unique and valuable?

I tried it. I’ll describe the results in my next blog post.

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Published: June 14, 2012

1 Response to “The Competition Doesn’t Matter – Part 1”

  1. Brian. Great post. One question.... How do I determine my distinct value? And how do I package that? I am a long-time manufacturing professional, a naturally talented singer (not formerly trained), have done some volunteer work with young people that included publishing a newsletter, and really enjoy things like graphic arts and design, excellent food, finance, and travel.

    Guest (Jonathan Song)May 3, 2014 at 12:13 am

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